Morris Street Redevelopment Plan Moves Another Step Forward
Ordinance to adopt plan was introduced at Thursday redevelopment meeting.
Call it a "mini master plan."
That was what Phil Abramson, planning professional for the town, called the Morris Street Redevelopment Plan, whose ordinance adoption was introduced Thursday after the planner gave the Morristown Redevelopment Agency an updated overview of where the project stands today.
With the plan's ordinance introduction, pending Planning Board approval on Oct. 25 and adoption by the redevelopment agency on Nov. 8, the second part of a four-part process will be complete. This ultimately will lead to the development of a 74-unit project in a long-abandoned section of land off Morris Street and Ford Avenue.
Much of what Abramson presented to town council—which acts as the town's redevelopment agency—has been presented at prior meetings. Originally just one townhouse project on a former junkyard, the owner of the adjacent Bell Atlantic building expressed interest in joining the project earlier this year.
The town approved in August adding Mountain Center Realty LLC, owner of the building, to the plan. Currently, the plan across about 1.5 acres calls for Mountain Center Realty's building to be rehabilitated into 33 market rate and four affordable housing units; the parcel containing the former junkyard, owned by Leona Developers, would also contain 33 market rate and four affordable housing units. A house fronting Morris Street owned by Leona would either be rehabilitated or rebuilt as part of their portion of the plan.
In addition, a retaining wall would be built fronting the train tracks, and a walkway accessible to the public would link Ford Avenue to Morris Street from within the development.
"A lot of thought has been given to how this will be laid out," Abramson said. He presented earlier proposals for the junkyard portion of the plan, which had originally called for 90 units. That ultimately was rejected by the town.
Still, council members had a few questions and suggestions.
Councilman Stefan Armington said the Bell Atlantic building, with its flat roof, could be "a great opportunity for a 'green' roof," potentially a home to solar panels, for example, he said. "It would be great to see that come before the Planning Board."
Abramson noted LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Neighborhood Design practices have been part of the planning process.
Several had questions about Leonia's townhouse portion of the project and its designated 2.5 stories of habitable space for each of its three buildings.
While Abramson noted 2.5 stories matched the average height of houses on Morris Street, redevelopment agency attorney John Inglessino said it had been important to the developers that the .5, complete with slanted roof, be habitable space.
Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid asked whether the project was indeed totally residential, and could not be converted for business use down the road.
Abramson referred to a researched selection of permitted uses—which applied only to the first floor of the Bell Atlantic building—including artists, media production and art galleries. But, ultimately, it would be up to the developer and any homeowner's associations. Other than that, the project could not have any potential for business use.
Smith-Reid also questioned the designation of approximately 1.5 parking spaces per unit. "I don't think that's reality," she said.
Abramson said that number had been arrived at based on other transit-oriented projects around town, including Roseland Property's developments such as 40 Park and Highlands at Morristown Station. Their units average about 1.14 parking spaces used. However, when Highlands at Morristown Station was built, a larger amount of parking accessibility was made and, "they're losing money on that," Abramson said.
Council Vice President Rebecca Feldman said an "aspirational goal" of hers would be to see a collaboration between the project developers and residents of Morris Street for shared parking. "Any way to provide access for parking for Morris, their [housing] values will go up," she said.
After the plan was introduced, Mayor Tim Dougherty thanked everyone involved, including Abramson, administration, attorneys and developers. "They have done everything they can to make this a neighborhood that works," he said. "Especially, with two different developers, they really worked hard on this."
The plan will next go before the Planning Board on Oct. 25. If approved, it will return to the redevelopment agency for their Nov. 8 meeting.